October 21, 2006

Problems caused by lack of education

One of the issues facing the battle against disease in South Africa, particularly HIV, is lack of education. There can be quite amusing statistics (which I can’t quite locate at the moment) that may stick in your mind, such as the no.1 reason why condoms fail in the country is that ‘people wear them on their fingers’, but there are also more unexpected problems arising from the tribal culture that remains among the poorer black population of the country.

‘There has been some tension in South Africa between the methods used by different medical practices to treat HIV. Around 80% of people living in African countries consult traditional African healers and use traditional African remedies, even if they use conventional medicines as well, and some of these traditional methods of treatment are potentially harmful to people living with HIV. For instance, some people (such as the Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang) claim that African potato boosts the immune system and thereby helps to fight off AIDS. Yet a recent study shows that people taking ARVs should not eat African potato, because it lowers the level of antiretroviral chemicals in the body and increases the likelihood of HIV developing resistance to the drugs.’

This is just one of the complications that can arise in a culture that relies heavily on tribal healing. This is not to say that the use of healers cannot be beneficial to a person’s health, even if the result is simply a placebo, but the problems with misinformation are only compounded by adding another layer of treatment. Another major issue is the tribal belief that having intercourse with a virgin will cure you of disease (including HIV). Not only does this lead to a large number of rapes every year, it also obviously spreads HIV as well.

As the last few entries show, misinformation is clearly a large problem in South Africa and one of the biggest issues when trying to reach the population as a whole. Next time, I’m shifting the focus slightly to the changing diseases themselves, as I’ve found some interesting material on super-TB (super in a bad way).

October 19, 2006

Zuma on AIDS

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4879822.stm

Jacob Zuma is generally accepted to be the strongest candidate for taking over the Presidency from Mbeki, despite having been voted out of the Vice Presidency due to rape charges (though he was welcomed back in when he was aquitted) and is still facing corruption charges.

More importantly, though, Zuma was head of the National AIDS Council. In his rape trial, this came out:

‘Mr Zuma said in court on Wednesday he had left his bedroom after having sex with the woman and taken a shower because this “would minimise the risk of contracting the disease [HIV]”.’

Enough said, really.

October 18, 2006

Mbeki's stance on HIV

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/aids/story/0,7369,652082,00.html

Much as I dislike the Guardian, the article linked above is an interesting one to study (despite being written 4 years ago), because it highlights one of the problems that the government faces when trying to tackle diseases, namely the chap who is in charge. The most important point to note is obviously Mbeki’s stance on AIDS, which is unorthodox to say the least. He is well known for backing an outspoken group of scientists who deny that AIDS is caused by the HIV virus, and instead calls for a general battle against poverty rather than specifically against HIV. You can check out a site regarding the so called ‘HIV myth’ at www.virusmyth.com, if you want to try and see where he’s coming from. I do find it interesting, however, that the small fact that everyone who is diagnosed HIV positive eventually dies from AIDS-related causes appears to have been swept under the carpet.

Anyway, the net effect of Mebki’s views is that they have been used as an excuse not to routinely perscribe drugs to HIV positive pregnant mothers that prevent the children contracting the disease at birth. There have been various explanations provided for Mbeki taking this stance. One camp is that Mbeki considered the drugs too expensive, or to take a more cynical view, that HIV was being used as a method of population control to address the enormous unemployment problem in South Africa. Another explanation is that Mbeki is just a bit of a nut and genuinely believes what he was saying. (The latter explanation shouldn’t just be dismissed out of hand, either. But that’s another story.)

The article also mentions Mandela ‘wading onto the battlefield’, and the fact that this was the first time he tried to interfere with ANC policy since stepping down highlights how important the matter actually is. The figure of 6 million dead by the end of the decade is a harrowing one, especially in a country of 45 million people. Anyway, its important to show that the strange attitudes towards HIV are very much limited to a minority rather than the entire government.

Which neatly ties into what’s happened in the last 4 years since that peice was written. The Cabinet of the government overruled Mbeki and now policy is that HIV causes AIDS and therefore anti-retrovirals must be perscribed to those that need them. Because Mbeki’s pretty hot on party discipline, he’s not allowed to criticise the party line, though there have been allegations of his office trying to subtly influence policy (though these has of course been denied). This looks set to continue with the next President, as the favorite is a bloke called Zuma who has also made some intriuiging claims about AIDS and will be the subject of the next entry. And that’s me over and out for today.

October 17, 2006

Starting at the Beginning

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/country_profiles/1071886.stm

This seems as good a place as any to start the blog, a BBC overview of the country. Two important points there – one, South Africa has the second highest instance of HIV/AIDS in the world (after Swaziland, which of course shares about 80% of it’s borders with South Africa), and that Thabo Mbeki has been criticised for questioning the link between HIV and AIDS. That’s important because he used it as justification not to dish out anti-retrovirals, and I’ll dig up some old articles on it in my next thrilling installment. Stay tuned, kiddies.

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